Herbert E. Rawson was the second son of Rawson W. Rawson*, Colonial Secretary at the Cape of Good Hope. Herbert and his parents came to the Cape in 1854, when he was still an infant. He was educated at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, near London, and joined the Royal Engineers in 1872. After serving in Bermuda (1877), Malta (1885), and Canada (1885-1889), he was appointed in command of the Royal Egineers in Natal in October 1899 and served in South Africa for the duration of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). In November 1902 he returned to England, but came back during 1905-1907 as chief engineer in command of the Royal Engineers in South Africa. He left to become chief engineer of the Northern Command in Britain, until his retirement in 1909.
Rawson was a Freemason and an accomplished sportsman who played cricket and football at the regional level. He was honoured as a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1902 and was a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society. He belonged to several other scientific societies, including the British Association for the Advancement of Science (from 1905) and, during his second stay in South Africa, the South African Association for the Advancement of Science.
Rawson's principal scientific interest was in meteorology. In 1896 he published an analysis of barometrical observations made at Greenwich during 1879-1890, with special reference to the declinations of the sun and moon, in the Quarterly Journal of the Meteorological Society. This was followed by a similar analysis of the Greenwich rainfall records (1896), and a paper on "Anticyclonic systems and their movements" (1898) in the same journal. His most important papers on the subject of southern African meteorology were "Anticyclones and their influence on South African weather" (Report of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science, 1906, pp. 49-68), "Anti-cyclones as aids to long distance weather forecasting" (ibid, 1907, p. 34), and "The anticyclonic belt of the southern hemisphere" (Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 1908, pp. 165-188). Some further notes by him on the same topic were published as "The southern cyclonic belt" in the Geographical Journal (1908). In these papers he set forth his view, based on a study of many weather charts, that the weather of South Africa is controlled by two large, stable anticyclonic systems, one in the South Atlantic and the other in the Indian Ocean west of Australia. He found that the long term seasonal movement of these systems north and south of their mean position, with a period of 19 years, affected the rainfall and weather of the subcontinent. In "The drought of 1903-05 and future weather prospects" (Natal Agricultural Journal, 1906, Vol. 9, pp. 1139-1145) he explained and applied his theory for the benefit of the farming community. Turning to another meteorological matter of interest to farmers, he examined the effect of solar radiation on plant growth in "Sunrise and growth" (Report of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science, 1906, pp. 251-259). He wrote about this topic also in the Transvaal Agricultural Journal (1905/6), and his findings were reviewed by H. Ingle* and I.B.P. Evans* in the same journal the next year.